1978 Minnesota Norsemen Professional Slow-Pitch Softball Season

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(Originally posted at Minnesota Then)

The 1978 ASPSL season opened with a series of changes for the Minnesota team. The team that had played the previous year as the Goofy’s was now known the Minnesota Norsemen. New owner Steve Doran had the financial means that former owner Joe Houle lacked, and ensured players and fans that the money issues that caused the team to sputter in 1977 were a thing of the past. The Norsemen looked to distance themselves from the belief that slow-pitch softball lacked athletes and the ASPSL was little more than a glorified “beer league.”

There were new players added to the roster of fifteen. Their first signee for the 1978 season was hard-hitting catcher Bob “The Plant” McMahon, renowned in local circles for his ability to hit the long ball. Home runs were exciting, and that excitement would bring fans out to see the team play. However, it wasn’t just home run power. Another of the new Norsemen that year was Steve Winfield, the “jet-footed” older brother of MLB star and Saint Paul native Dave Winfield.

Much of the core from the 1977 team remained intact. The team practiced at the University of Minnesota Fieldhouse throughout the off-season to become a better team and more cohesive group. Outfielder Gene Parrish believed that the extra time together put them in the position to be “vastly improved in every phase of the game.” They also got stronger in the off-season as players like John Locke put on muscle. The 1977 Goofy’s squad was a good hitting team, but the 1978 Norsemen hoped to be a great hitting team.

The Norsemen went undefeated over their sixteen game exhibition schedule to open the 1978 season. They tore the cover off of the ball against a series of local community all-star teams located throughout the region. That success, coupled with lower ticket prices, had the Norsemen believing that the fan support that had eluded the team in 1977 would likely be realized in 1978, The new ownership brought a big-league mentality to the Norsemen, and the team felt that stability improved attitudes and made the team better. They weren’t predicting a championship, but they felt they were “of championship quality.”

The team opened its season on the road against the Milwaukee Schlitz on May 13th. A week later they were back at Midway Stadium to take on the Cincinnati Suds. The game, broadcast on KTWN FM 108, reportedly had nearly three-thousand fans in attendance. The Norsemen rewarded fans in attendance by hitting thirty-three home runs over the course of the double-header. On Saturday St. Paul Mayor George Latimer threw out the first pitch. The team swept the weekend series against the Suds.

Home runs came early and often throughout the beginning of the season, and the team’s affinity for the long ball continued all season long. They won games handily in the early going, and were proving that they weren’t “just another barroom team.” Win or lose the Norsemen made an impression on the teams that they played against each week. They finished the 1978 with 434 home runs, hitting a lot when they lost and even more when they won.

A renewed focus, a winning streak, and home runs in bunches didn’t bring the fans to the park at levels that the Norsemen had hoped. Doran publicly bemoaned that “(he) didn’t know what more (he) could do to show St. Paul it (was) important to the Norsemen.” The team had twelve wins in its first fifteen games, and averaged nearly ten home runs in each game, but struggled to get even one-thousand fans out to Midway Stadium with any degree of consistency.

The lack of fan support was so bad that Doran resorted to handing out questionnaires to those in attendance during a June series against the Hard Hats to see if they could provide some insight. Without providing specifics, Doran noted that more people were coming to the ballpark and that the increase in support was reflected in concession sales. He anticipated losing $40,000 in 1978, but believed he would recoup his investment once the league popularity inevitably took off.

In spite of consistently winning games by large margins, the Norsemen seemed to be unable to get over the hump to become a relevant sports option in the eyes (and wallets) of Twin Cities fans. The summer months saw the team compete against the Twins, Kicks, Vikings, and North Stars for fans. Attendance numbers for each game well below the three-thousand fan break-even point showed that the team was losing the battle.

The Norsemen finished the regular season with a record of 40–24. Five players hit more than forty home runs, led by Dale Palm’s seventy. After dispatching the Cincinnati Suds in two games the Norsemen advanced to the World Series against the Detroit Caesar’s. Detroit proved to be too much for the Minnesota team to handle, sweeping the team in four games to take the title.

Learn about the 1977 Minnesota Goofy's team here.

Minnesota Norsemen 1978 Program & Yearbook

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